Electric Car Breakthrough?

There are certain alternative energy technologies that I believe will have an enormous impact on our future. Heading that list is solar energy, followed by wind power, biomass gasification, and possibly cellulosic ethanol. Most alternative energy sources that I think have a real chance to make an impact involve electricity generation. Therefore, in order to really impact the transportation sector, we need to move toward electrifying more of our transportation options.

I was recently asked what kind of cars we would be driving 100 years from now. Without hesitating for a second, I replied “Electric cars.” A key reason we aren’t driving them now is that the range and convenience is not what we are accustomed to with internal combustion cars. Therefore, not only are the alternative energy sources themselves important, but the key to making them viable for personal transportation is developing energy storage devices that improve the range. Wind power is great, but we have to develop better ways of storing the power for when the wind doesn’t blow.

So, I was very pleased this morning to read the following story at CNN.com:

Gentlemen, stop your engines

It describes an innovative approach to energy storage, and one that potentially “could blow away the combustion engine.” Some excerpts from the article:

Forget hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles. EEStor, a stealth company in Cedar Park, Texas, is working on an “energy storage” device that could finally give the internal combustion engine a run for its money — and begin saving us from our oil addiction. “To call it a battery discredits it,” says Ian Clifford, the CEO of Toronto-based electric car company Feel Good Cars, which plans to incorporate EEStor’s technology in vehicles by 2008.

EEStor’s device is not technically a battery because no chemicals are involved. In fact, it contains no hazardous materials whatsoever. Yet it acts like a battery in that it stores electricity. If it works as it’s supposed to, it will charge up in five minutes and provide enough energy to drive 500 miles on about $9 worth of electricity. At today’s gas prices, covering that distance can cost $60 or more; the EEStor device would power a car for the equivalent of about 45 cents a gallon.

Of course the key there is “if it works as it’s supposed to.” A patent has been issued, so it’s got some credibility. During my recent conversations with Vinod Khosla, one thing we agreed upon was that energy storage devices have great potential for revolutionizing the world. He indicated that he is invested in this area. In fact, the article says that his firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is backing the technology. Here’s hoping they are right about this one. If anyone knows more about this, let me know.

16 thoughts on “Electric Car Breakthrough?”

  1. Jim Fraser had this a while ago at Energy Blog, but the go-to-guy about Eestor is Tyler Hamilton’s blog, Clean Break.

    Hamilton did a long article in the Toronto Star about Eestor here.

    Last I heard, Eestor was going to third-party verification this month. They’ve registered a URL (Eestor.us) but there’s nothing up there for now.

    A Canadian NEV company, Feel Good Cars, has an exclusive contract for Eestor ESUs in any car under (I think) 1000 lbs.

    Apparently, the big mystery is whether or not Eestor’s managed to build the right power electronics – capacitors are finicky about voltage, and it’s a lot of work to keep them at the same flow over time. Still, exciting stuff.

  2. It can store $9 of electricity in 5 minutes?


    According to a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, if we assume the price of electricity is $0.15 per kilowatt-hour, then 9 bucks equals 60 KWhr. 60KWhr divided by 5 minutes equals 720 kilowatts.

    So, yeah, you can charge it in 5 minutes… If you have a 220 volt, 3300 amp circuit!

    This strains credulity a bit.

  3. It’s exactly this kind of disruptive technology all those economists will point to when they explain how they always knew ‘peak oil’ was going to be a non-event.

    This is something I’ll be highly interested to see become successful and mainstream. My knee-jerk reaction is skepticism, but I had the same reaction to thermal depolymerization, and it works.

    Three cheers for ceramic ultracapacitors!

  4. Until technical details are published in a peer-reviewed journal, I am very suspicious. Let me say that I have seen more stock scams than technical advances over the years and stock scams usually begin with PR like this not PR like peer review.

  5. With today’s USPTO, saying that a patent lends them credibility is a bit of a stretch. It rules out perpetual motion machines, but that’s about it :).

    In terms of charge time, presumably you’d have a bank of the capacitors at the “gas station” that charge relatively slowly off the grid/solar array/wind turbine and then dump charge the car’s pack.

    Of course, while there’s all kinds of reasons why battery exchange schemes with current technology are impractical, most of them wouldn’t apply to a sufficiently light and compact capacitor system. So maybe a standard swappable form factor could be developed.

  6. With today’s USPTO, saying that a patent lends them credibility is a bit of a stretch. It rules out perpetual motion machines, but that’s about it :).

    Actually, a number of perpetual motion machines have been patented. So, the patent office very often gets it wrong. But, a patent indicates at least it made it through some level of scrutiny. It also provides a way for me to look at some of the lab results.

    If you’re interested, the patent number is 7,033,406 and you can take a look here.

    Thanks. I am going to pull that up and print it out.

  7. After reading the patent, it looks like a set of miniturized capacitors. To quickly store a lot of energy, you would carge a set of capacitors at a time, I guess based on the total amperage available. To release the energy over a long period of time, you would access each capacitor individually.

  8. EEStor is a very strange case. They won’t talk to anyone, yet they go out of their way to embed unnecessary marketing material in their patent. Reading a patent which lists sizes, capacities and prices is a very bizarre experience. If they really wanted to operate in stealth mode, why not just write a normal patent? It’d be a stronger patent and none of us would have ever heard of them.

    Barium titanate capacitors have been around for decades. Research into barium titanate hasn’t shown any potential for EEStor’s performance claims. I don’t see anything special in the patent (except the performance claims) and people who understand this stuff far better than me say they don’t see any sort of breakthrough in materials or processing, either.

    There is talk of ultra-purity. When capacitors break down the point of failure is often a contaminated or malformed area. Perhaps EEStor has something analogous to supercooled water. Pure water in a smooth container can be cooled to -40 or so without freezing, but if you put something in it (e.g. a straw) it freezes very quickly. I can see where such an effect might be easy to create in the lab but take 6 years to perfect under real world conditions, explaining EEStor’s long silence.

    It still doesn’t explain the oddball patent, though. It reads like a scam, but what scam stays quiet for five years and then goes to a hyper-sophisticated investor (Kleiner Perkins) for cash? I hope EEStor delivers, but exceptional claims require exceptional proof and until they show some I’ll keep them categorized with cold fusion in the “wouldn’t it be great” file.

  9. If it works as it’s supposed to, it will charge up in five minutes and provide enough energy to drive 500 miles…

    I’d like to see the electrical circuit that can transfer enough energy in five minutes to move a car 500 miles — it must be made of a solid copper bar a couple of inches thick.

    The mains running into my house can’t handle that much current. To work as advertised, we’d need to rewire the entire country in order to have places where people can plug in their cars.

    Will it also accept electrical energy at a much slower rate that present household wiring can handle? I’d settle for an overnight charge.

  10. What if the charging was done at very high voltage but relatively low amperage? So instead of 220 Volts at 3300 Amps, it might be 11,000 Volts at 66 Amps.

    This would solve the amperage problem, but multiple kVolts would be a safety problem.

    Certainly charging in 5 minutes is impossible at home. Maybe a specially equipped charge station could handle a couple thousand volts at a few hundred amps.

  11. I’d like to see the electrical circuit that can transfer enough energy in five minutes to move a car 500 miles….

    Fast-charge stations would probably look something like those neighborhood electrical substations, with a high voltage line (e.g. 115 kV) coming in and a bunch of transformers and such behind a fence or hidden in a concrete building. The connectors to fast-charge an EEStor car would be impressive, able to handle 3000 volts and perhaps a couple hundred amps.

    Of course you don’t need to fast-charge at home. An ordinary 110V outlet could give 100 miles or so of “top-up” charge each night. If you regularly needed more you could easily upgrade to 220V.

    The real question is whether EEStor is legit. The charging infrastructure is not a problem.

  12. Wind power is great, but we have to develop better ways of storing the power for when the wind doesn’t blow.

    Not quite sure what you mean here. Presumably, electric autos would provide much of the storage that might be needed. The existing utility system can already make use of sizable amounts of wind-generated electricity without storage, and added vehicle storage would simply make wind integration even easier.

    Thomas O. Gray
    American Wind Energy Association

  13. I also read the patent. It appears to describe a method for making a capacitor. Without being negative, I’ll say that if they have made a breakthrough, I don’t think that their breakthrough is protected by this patent. In particular, patent law requires that the invention be “reduced to practice” — just having the idea is not enough, you have to have shown that it works. This means putting the results of your critical experiments into the patent. This patent doesn’t have any data, it just describes a method. I think it’s pretty likely that the data doesn’t exist: otherwise, a good patent lawyer would make sure it went into the patent. The risk of leaving it out is that someone else could show that it works, and successfully patent the resulting device, the use of it to store energy, etc. No data == no useful invention.

    Ultracapacitors have been seriously proposed for EVs, but are currently out of fashion due to energy density issues. Google “ultracapacitor” for more.

    So what about Kleiner Perkins? VC investment is not about validating what exists, it’s a bet on the future. And not on future success of the technology, just future success of the stock! So KP thinks that these guys, given some money, have a chance at discovering something exciting enough that the company can be sold at a profit. That’s all.

  14. EEStor has been making wild claims
    for the past year and a half and has missed several timelines already. Their patent is a piece of nonsense that anyone can avoid infinging on by following a simple procedure.
    The BIG secret at EEStor is not a working device – they would love to display such a thing – the big secret is that it’s not only obvious that the device doesn’t work, it’s also obvious that there is no hope that it ever will work.

  15. Hi All,

    I find it odd that no one in the industry or in these forums discussed the massive amounts of energy (electricity) needed to provide fan energy and Heating/AC to most drivers in North America. I live in Edmonton, Alberta and I love the Idea of Electric cars.

    But, I wonder if any battery type device could provide enough juice to keep a vehicle warm in winter….and still have power to get down the road?

    Here is the other Achilles heal..


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